(CNN) -- The African Union has elected Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to lead the 54-nation bloc after a hotly contested election.
The 63-year-old South African home affairs minister is the first woman to hold the post and is the ex-wife of South African President Jacob Zuma.
Sunday's election, which took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, follows a stalemate in January that left 69-year-old incumbent Jean Ping of Gabon in power after neither side could secure the necessary two-thirds majority.
The run up to the election largely split the continent in two, with West and Francophone Africa firmly behind Ping, while Zuma's counterparts in the Southern African Development Community firmly backed her bid.
Challenges are likely to come quickly for the new head of the AU as she deals with the aftermath of recent coups in Guinea Bissau and Mali. Ping was criticized as being slow and ineffective in his response to last year's coup in Cote D'Ivoire and the revolution in Libya.
Zuma is a more "professional, more accountable and more proficient" person than Ping, said Mehari Maru with the Institute of Security Studies in Addis Ababa, but warned it would likely take months for a change in leadership strategy to take place.